When you think of Bruce Chen, you think: trailblazer. The journeyman starter may have to fight to crack the Royals' rotation in spring training, but he's going to make some baseball history in March. Chen will become the first major leaguer to play for China when he pitches in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Perhaps more impressively, he'll be (we think) the first player to suit up on the WBC rosters of two different countries—Chen represented Panama in the 2009 Classic.
(Alex Rodriguez switched from the US to the Dominican Republic in 2009, but didn't play due to an injury.)
It's always been a curio that Chen was born and raised in Panama, the grandson of Chinese immigrants who fled political instability. A few years back the Washington Post looked into Chen's connection with his Chinese roots.
Yin Liu held an anger toward China for several years, and at one point forbade her family from planning any visit there. Bruce Chen spoke with his grandmother often, but never about China.
"I spoke with her, but I don't speak Chinese well, and she didn't speak Spanish well, so mostly we played cards and spoke a little bit about our family history, how my mother was as a child," Chen recalled. "I feel a bit melancholy because I wasn't able to communicate well with her because I didn't know Chinese."
Three years ago Yin Liu died, and with her went Chen's last link to his Chinese heritage.
"I'm hoping to at least some day visit China to at least know about her roots, to know where she lived and to know where she was born," Chen said.
Chen's got a legitimate claim to a spot on the Chinese roster—unlike a lot of other pseudo-ethnic connections that are good enough for the WBC's lax rules, meant to add star power to some talent-thin nations. (Think Mike Piazza playing for Italy, or Tim Lincecum being courted by the Philippines.) We hope Panama doesn't treat Chen as a traitor for switching teams in this tournament no one cares about.